When you think of physical therapy, you may think it’s something reserved for rehab. While it’s true almost everyone goes to physical therapy after a surgery or an injury, it is used in other ways, too. Most notably, as the baby boomer population ages, more and more older adults are using physical therapy to stay fit and active.
Falls are the leading cause of injury and death among older adults. In fact, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an older adult falls about every 10 seconds in the United States. That’s why it’s important for older adults to stay active and to keep their bodies as strong as possible.
To decrease your risk of injury, here are ways older adults can use physical therapy to remain fit.
Physical Therapy Exercises for Balance
Your physical therapy sessions should always include some exercises to improve balance.
Your physical therapist will help you gain a better sense of balance with exercises like:
- Standing on one leg
- Walking heel to toe
Your physical therapist will be close by to instruct you and keep you safe, just in case you do lose your balance.
Physical Therapy for Gait
Gait training will help you improve your ability to walk. Gait, simply put, is the way you walk. Physical therapy will provide you ways to improve your gait and decrease your risk for falling.
Sitting in a chair and doing leg extensions will strengthen your quadriceps, which are the muscles most involved in walking. Placing a resistance band above or under the front of your foot adds resistance. Your physical therapist can assess what muscles you should strengthen and develop a walking program tailored just for you.
Light Gait Training at Physical Therapy
Older adults aren’t always in a position to do typical exercises. If you need to start slow, physical therapy is the place to do it.
Oftentimes there will be light gait training machines available tosupport your body weight while you walk. The goal is to get you moving slowly.
Your physical therapist can help you get into the harness and monitor your progression. Some light gait machines are equipped with a treadmill, so you can stay in one place, but still benefit from the exercise.
Physical Therapy Improves Leg Strength
For good balance and mobility you’re going to need overall leg strength. By going to physical therapy, you’ll have access to weight machines that will help you keep your strength up.
A leg press machine is a good way to do this, and chances are, you don’t have one at home. You can also do things like:
- Calf raises
- Leg Curls
Again, leg curls require a machine. Not only does physical therapy provide access to the machines, your physical therapist can make sure you’re doing the exercises properly and safely.
Physical Therapy for Stronger Bones
Weight training during your physical therapy session will also help you build stronger bones. According to the National Institutes of Health, the best exercise for your bones is the weight-bearing kind, which forces you to work against gravity.
Some examples of weight-bearing exercises include:
- Weight training
- Climbing stairs
Your physical therapist will work with you to find a weight-bearing exercise that you like, so you can enjoy the time you’re putting in to make your bones stronger.
The Department of Health and Human Services recently updated the list of physical activity guidelines for Americans. The new message is you can dramatically improve your health just by moving — anytime, anywhere, and by any means that gets you active. Talk to your doctor before starting any exercise routine, but It doesn’t take much to get moving. The hardest part is committing to a plan and sticking with it.
For more information on the updated physical activity guidelines for Americans, check out our guide “Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.” Inside you’ll find more ways to ease yourself into an exercise routine and how hard you should be working out to see results.